Boat shows are like theme parks for grownups. I’ve been to dozens of boat shows and I still get a buzz entering the doors and seeing the giant expanse of shiny new boats and gear on display. What’s not to like about them?


I guess that’s why we still have boat shows across Australia and New Zealand, while other similar events of the past, such as new car shows, have almost gone by the wayside. Boat shows are a fantastic way of checking out new boats, accessories and gathering ideas – all under one roof. Boat shows have never been more relevant. You may think with such instant access to information online that visiting an actual show isn’t necessary anymore. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, online research is important – more on that later – but seeing a boat in the flesh is essential before handing over your hard-earned money.
Domenic Genua, Publisher of Marine Business News and COO for the Australian Business Events Association, spent many years organising the iconic Sydney International Boat Show. Domenic says anyone even mildly interested in recreational boating should ensure that boat shows are firmly recorded in their diaries. “Internationally, boat shows are renowned for bringing communities of like-minded people together to experience the products and services that ensure we get the maximum amount of pleasure from the lifestyle we are so passionate about,” says Genua. “While browsing online certainly delivers a large amount of background and information regarding possible future boating choices, it is only when you attend boat shows, that you really appreciate the options. Boat shows do several things. Firstly, at a show you get to stimulate your senses. Online your appreciation for a product is limited to what the marketer wishes to present to you. At a show, your senses are immersed in the boat buying experience. While it is not common that people ‘taste’ their way through a boating selection process, it is reasonable to engage the other four senses, to see, feel, hear and smell a product,” says Genua. Let’s look at some ways to make the most of your boat show experience.

Paul Burt

Plan ahead

Have you ever been to a show and missed an important exhibitor or event? I know I have. In my haste to get around the show with limited time, I completely forgot about a certain brand of boat that was on my “mental list”, only to arrive home and realise I missed something important. Actually, if I had a genuine list and looked at a map of the show before visiting, I wouldn’t have missed anything. Exhibitor lists and maps are usually available online and are often handed out at the door. Take time to look them over and make sure you don’t miss anything. If you don’t have enough time to get around the show, consider attending a second day. Another great option is to avoid the crowds and go on a weekday. Just don’t tell the boss we said it was okay!

As the host of Step Outside With Paul Burt on 7Mate and Ambassador for both Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show (SCIBS) and Sydney International Boat Show (SIBS), Paul Burt certainly knows his way around a boat show. Paul suggests it’s best to attend the show on a weekday if you’re a serious buyer. “Thursday is generally a business day,” says Burt. “If you want to buy a boat you will have the undivided attention of the seller on Thursday. And if you want, you can come back on the Friday or the Sunday and seal the deal.”

Do your research

Speaking of planning ahead, if you’re in the market for a new boat, it pays to come armed with enough knowledge to make a qualified decision before handing over a deposit. Boat shows can be frantic places and there are no shortages of “show specials”. These show specials are typically a fantastic way of finding a bargain, but before making a purchase, be sure you know it’s the right boat and that you understand how the pricing works and what the package includes. Genua says the first step is to ask yourself some key questions, before you start any type of research. “There is a boat to suit almost everyone so the first obvious question will be, what do I want the boat for,” he says. “Make your decision about the type and focus on that. Other factors to consider include how many people will typically go boating with you. Be it a couple of friends, or a family of five, this will be a consideration as you won’t want to buy a tinnie rated for four people if you have a partner and three children to accommodate.”

The best thing about a boat show is having multiple brands, styles, sizes, etc, all in the one place at the one time. Take advantage of this and shop around. Sure, you may have your heart set on a particular boat, but now is the time to look at the competition and really ensure you’re making the right choice. Make sure you do enough online research to ask the right questions. The boat show is the perfect time to speak to an actual person, whether it’s the manufacturer or boat dealer, and ask specific questions about a boat for your needs. Questions such as suitable horsepower, optional extras, what’s included for the price and what’s not, colours, build time and more, are all common topics to talk to a salesperson about at a show.


More than just boats

Boat shows are also full of accessories and gadgets. Not everyone is at the show looking for a boat. Most of the major marine electronics brands have corporate stands at boat shows. They typically have all staff working on the stand and that includes technical experts. Again, it pays to do some research and it is a great opportunity to ask some technical questions and decide what accessories are best for your boat. Perhaps you already own one of the products and just need some advice on setting it up or solving a technical problem. The boat show is also a great opportunity for this. It’s worth noting that most of the corporate stands for accessories such as marine electronics won’t sell direct to the public. However, they will usually have a dealership nearby at the show they can direct you towards if you would like to buy the product on the day. And if it’s not in stock, they could put you in direct contact with your local marine electronics retailer. Marine electronics aren’t the only thing on show. There are exhibitors selling boat trailers, electric motors, boat shoes, apparel, accessories and gadgets you didn’t even know you needed for a boat!

A show of ideas

What if you already own a boat? Should you still attend a boat show? Absolutely! I always attend a boat show to plan my next boating move. Maybe I see a boat that piques my interest. Or maybe I see a boat that’s set up in a certain way and can take onboard some ideas for my own boat. Either way, just because you’re happy with your current boat doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start planning for the next one or look for ideas to enhance your boating experience. Some exhibitors show off concepts and these are always worthwhile seeing, as they offer an interesting insight into the future of boating.

Melbourne Boat Show

Events and attractions

Besides wandering around looking at boats and accessories and planning your next purchase, most boat shows have live events. For example, SCIBS (23-26 May) and SIBS (1-4 August) will both see Paul Burt on stage leading cooking demonstrations and technical fishing and boating discussions. Paul Burt says these talks can be a good excuse to relax and learn something at the same time. “In Sydney for example, people like to sit down on a chair in the air con and take a load off their feet and listen to something that they may never listen to any other time,” says Burt. Another trend in boat shows, including Sanctuary Cove and Sydney, is the opportunity for on-water testing. I’ve seen this in the US at Miami where you can jump onboard a new boat or test a new engine under supervision. It’s a great way to experience a new product and often the only opportunity to “try before you buy”. Staged by the Boating Industry Association of Victoria (BIAV), the Melbourne Boat Show (17-20 October) is one show that hosts many events and attractions for the whole family. “Over 43,000 visitors attended the Melbourne Boat Show in 2023,” says BIAV CEO Steve Walker. “That amount is expected to grow further in 2024 as boaters embrace the Docklands location, as well as the outdoor and lifestyle aspects of the event.”

The Hutchwilco New Zealand Boat Show

Different strokes

Not all boat shows are created equal. Each major show across Australia and New Zealand has something that makes it unique. For example, SCIBS has always been known as the “big boat show”. That said, these days with less regional shows around the place, shows like SCIBS have something for everybody, from small boats to big boats and loads of accessories and entertainment. Likewise, SIBS has a good mix, from luxury motor yachts, yachts and multi-hulls on the marina, to trailer boats and accessories inside the halls. There are still a few smaller regional shows around and they’re typically smaller boats and often smaller manufacturers than you see at the major shows. These regional shows can be a great place to see something different. Show up Even if you have no intention to buy a new boat or are happy with the boat you already own, don’t let that stop you attending a boat show. Everyone who enters a boat show loves boats and everyone is a potential buyer. Hopefully, this article whets your appetite and motivates you to attend a boat show. The upcoming boat show season looks to be as eventful as ever with plenty of new boats and some true innovation from outboard companies and marine electronics suppliers. See you there!


Paul Burt’s guide to building your boat

Boat shows offer so much more than boats. Every component of a boat is typically on display – whether it’s fish finders, anchors, outboards or even flooring – and roaming the halls or marina allows you the opportunity to research each and every part and build your ultimate dream boat from the ground up. “If you’re a buyer, go check out the boats first,” says Paul Burt. “You need to have a look at all the boats, whether you’re after a trailer boat, or an on-water boat. Once you’ve made your mind up on a couple of different options, then go look at the electronics. Then you’ll check out the engine stands and trailers if you’re going for a trailerable boat. Then you can look at the figures and start the wheeling and dealing towards the end of the day,” he says. Boat shows are hard to beat for putting together the package of your dreams. Of course, many boat manufacturers have preferred suppliers of trailers, outboards and accessories, but at the end of the day, if you prefer one brand over the next, a boat show will allow you to speak to all boat dealers and suppliers under the one roof.

Article by Scott Thomas.

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